In "The Pervasion of Rouge" Max Beerbohm delves into the prejudices that exist in most Western societies by discussing the specific prejudice concerning the use of cosmetics by women. Unlike sages like Carlyle or Thoreau, Beerbohm does not directly attack this reader but works through the use of a less aggressive style of writing. The piece is written in the form of an extensive monologue, which makes observations but not accusations. A significant part of this writing is the author's way of presenting facts. Instead of simply stating facts he gives the reader the whole process of how one could reach a certain conclusion. An example of this can be seen in the following paragraph where he is discussing the probable origin of the existing prejudice against the use of cosmetics:

And now that the use of pigments is becoming general, and most women are not so [110/111] young as they are painted, it may be asked curiously how the prejudice ever came into being. Indeed, it is hard to trace folly, for that it is inconsequent, to its start; and perhaps it savors too much of reason to suggest that the prejudice was due to the trustful confusion man has made of soul and surface. Through trusting so keenly to the detection of the one by keeping watch upon the other, and by force of the thousand errors following, he has come to think of surface even as the reverse of soul. He seems to suppose that every clown beneath his paint and lip salve is moribund and knows it (though in verity, I am told, clowns are as cheerful a class of men as any other), that the fairer the fruit's rind and the more delectable its bloom, the closer are packed the ashes within it. The very jargon of the hunting-field connects cunning with a mask. And so perhaps came man's anger at the embellishment of women — that lovely mask of enamel with its shadows of pink and tiny-penciled veins, what must lurk behind it? Of what treacherous mysteries may it not be the screen? Does not the heathen lacquer her dark face, [111/112] and the harlots paint her cheeks, because sorrow has made them pale?

Questions

Does Beerbohm's friendlier attitude towards his audience work at face value or is it a type of parody?

Does his manner of explaining a social structure like prejudice work effectively in the essay?

Comparing Beerbohm's writing here, to Ruskin's educational speech in "Traffic," can you determine if are they different or similar?


Victorian Web Overview Aesthetes & Decadents Max Beerbohm

Last modified: 12 March 2001